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April 6, 2005

Well, that sucked
by SG

After two great wins to start the season, the Yankees appeared to be well on their way to the season-opening sweep that I foolishly predicted. Gary Sheffield's bases loaded sac fly in the bottom of the 8th gave them a 3-2 lead. However, for the second game in a row, Mariano Rivera was unable to hold the lead. The top of the ninth started badly with a leadoff walk to Bill Mueller. Mark Bellhorn followed with a single, then Johnny Damon with another single on which Mueller held, unsure if Gary Sheffield could catch it or not. Rivera came back to strike out Trot Nixon, then induced a double play grounder to Alex Rodriguez. Unfortunately, Rodriguez did not pick the in-between hop, and recorded no outs. This tied the game, then a weak Ortiz grounder towards first scored a fourth run. Rivera then walked Dave McCarty and gave up a single to Edgar Renteria that scored two more runs. He followed this up with another walk, this time to Doug Mirabelli.

Then came one of the rarest things that a Yankee fan has seen over the last 10 years. Mariano Rivera getting relieved mid-inning.

There's been a lot of chronicling of Rivera's recent struggles against Boston. He's blown 12 of 20 save opportunites against them dating back to 2001. Some people will claim that the Red Sox are in Mariano's head, or they have his number. Until today I wouldn't have paid any mind to that, but Rivera's approach in today's game was markedly different. He was working away to every hitter, which is not his strength. This was troubling to me, because it may be an indicator that this recent history is worrying him.

More likely, this is just one of Rivera's occasional slumps, where his cutter is not sharp and his command is off, a/k/a WWWMW (What's wrong with Mariano Week). I don't know if his spring training bout with elbow bustitis is still an issue, or if it affected him getting ready for the season. However, he is 36 now, and as scary as it is for Yankee fans to think about, his best days are probably behind him. I will say one thing, I was more pissed about the fans that dared to boo him as he left the mound today than the blown save.

One thing to think about though, as much mystique and importance that Rivera has been given for the Yankees' success since 1995, it is a basic fact that in the regular season a ninth inning closer does not have that much impact over the course of the season. Granted, the playoffs are a different story, but that's a long way off. Rivera will have ample time to sort out his problems if he can, and if not, the Yankees will manage somehow.

Baseball is a game that will ground you, as players and as fans. The strong get through ruts, and I don't know if there's a stronger player in baseball than Mo.

I am more concerned about the bottom of the lineup, which is looking like it will be a weakness all season. I still have hope for Bernie to at least hit decently, maybe not with the power he once had but at least to not make outs. Tino did have a HR today, but has looked lost at the plate. Tony Womack is what he is, despite last year's career best season, he'll most likely be making outs in 70% of his plate appearances.

Looking at the big picture, I think anyone would take winning 2 out of 3 against Boston to open the season, so that is good. Hopefully the HBP on Jeter will not have any lingering effect.

I am just happy to get through one of the Boston/Yankee series at this point, they are emotionally draining games. It's turning into a great rivalry, especially now that it can't really be called one-sided anymore, but how about some nice non-pressure games against Tampa?